Homestead High students mentor incoming freshmen

With summer break underway, the thought of attending high school can be intimidating to some eighth-graders – especially this year.

The coronavirus pandemic is making it more difficult for students to stay motivated and productive at a time when they would benefit from additional guidance, according to Rajvi Umrigar, co-founder of Inara, a mentoring program that pairs high school mentors with middle school students.

Umrigar and Michelle Wallerius, rising seniors at Homestead High School, said they were inspired to start Inara after noticing the lack of support middle school students receive as they transition to high school.

“We realized we could have used a program like this when we were in high school ourselves and how we could provide the guidance and support that our middle school students may not be able to find elsewhere,” said Umrigar, a Cupertino resident.

The program launched June 1 and is slated to run for three to four months in the summer. Thirty high school mentors – including some from Mountain View High School – were paired with 30 students from Sunnyvale and Cupertino middle schools. That first day, mentors introduced an ice-breaker activity to get to know their paired middle schooler.

“The transition from middle to high school is very important, and this experience itself can be both exciting and even scary,” Umrigar said. “You have a lot of options to choose from. There’s extracurriculars, which you never experienced in middle school. You have clubs, you have sports, you have GPA. You have all these unknown things that can be really hard to face alone. Inara is all about mentoring these middle school students who are feeling uncertain.”

Inara offers biweekly sessions in which each mentoring week is dedicated to a specific topic, such as GPA or extracurriculars. Umrigar said there are many resources online for standardized test prep, but few are directed at younger kids who want to get a step ahead and familiarize themselves with high school before stepping on campus.

“We wanted to make (the program) accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial backgrounds,” Umrigar said. “Making this program free is just all about reaching as many people (and) providing guidance and support to as many students as we possibly can.”

Socially prepared

Although high school may seem centered on academics, Wallerius said it is just as important for students to know what to expect of the social setting. Creating a mentorship program rather than a tutoring one enables students to freely ask questions and discover high school for themselves, with a little nudge from their paired mentors, the Sunnyvale resident added.

“We thought there’s so much more to high school than just what you’re studying,” Wallerius said. “So we wanted to create sort of an environment where students can ask questions about high school, not only about academics but also about mundane things – like, what is homecoming and what is this club?”

The executive team is planning a career and technical skills-based workshop later in the summer for which they will invite guest speakers and partner with organizations and school clubs, such as Future Business Leaders of America and the Speech and Debate club.

Umrigar and Wallerius said they hope Inara will make a big impact on the academic and mentorship sector of the community, especially when the pandemic demands a diverse group of community support from all walks of life.

“The coronavirus pandemic certainly can be overwhelming,” Umrigar said. “Many are suffering from feelings of utter helplessness during these difficult times. However, it’s important to remember there are many ways to help your community aside from staying home. Everyone has their unique talents and skills, so they can make a difference. The Inara team highly encourages everyone to use this time to give back to their community.”

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